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David Bowie – [Album]

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Sunday, 10 March 2013

The cover of The Next Day takes the cover image of "Heroes" and slaps a white box over it, containing the title. This, combined with the first single and video, ("Where Are We Now?" which looks back on Bowie's time in Berlin in the mid-Seventies), leads one to suppose that this is a backwards looking album – despite the title. If that is the assumption you choose to leap to, you'll probably liken The Next Day to Scary Monsters – the album in which Bowie sized up his Seventies career and basically tore it and his various personae up so he could start again.

If that is the assumption you jump to first, dear reader, you'll listen first with an ear attuned to Bowie's past – searching for clues and references – and you'll find them, of course. The funky groove of "Dirty Boys" could have come from the Young Americans sessions, while its harsh guitar is more like something from Outside. "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)" rocks like the best of Reality, his last album, ten years ago. And just by calling it "The Stars" – why, that must reference Ziggy Stardust, right? And look, there's "Dancing Out in Space" – another "Space Oddity" update?

There are also recurring themes, especially a focus on paranoia (as in "If you can see me/ I can see you"). "I'd Rather Be High" is a simplistic anti-war tune reminiscent of his Hunky Dory outtake "Bombers." "The Stars" and "(You Will) Set the World on Fire" both examine celebrity, much as "Fame" did so many years ago, although with a more sophisticated, accepting attitude.

The problem is, Bowie's career has been so long and varied (he is rock's ultimate chameleon, after all) that it is nearly impossible for him to record anything which doesn't sound at least a little bit like something he's done before. On closer listen, the idea implied by The Next Day's cover is a ruse; a distraction. The past is always present in our lives and none of us can escape it – not even David Bowie; but it is not the focus of The Next Day.

So, should we take the title at its word? Is he indeed looking ahead? Bowie has always been a futurist, rarely one for nostalgia. Even the aforementioned Scary Monsters was more an attempt to wipe out his past than celebrate it. Other than an occasional song or two, only Pin-Ups was an overt exercise in nostalgia. There was a time when Bowie at least anticipated (if not out and out created) the next big thing, from glam to disco to New Wave and electronica; but that was decades ago. His last attempts at genre defining albums, Outside and Earthling, seemed a step or two behind the curve, rather than ahead of it. Given that late-career tradition, this is not a genre defining album – so that's not really a concern. The sonic palette in use on The Next Day is too varied; other than Tony Visconti's clean production, you can't really put your finger on a The Next Day sound. There are hard rockers, like the title track and "Stars,” twisted funk like "Dirty Boys" and "If You Can See Me," slow, dark ballads like "Where Are We Now?" and "Heat." "Valentine's Day" and "How Does the Grass Grow?" have touches of early British invasion rock, and "Dancing Out in Space" is appropriately spacey. This variety should not be surprising, as the album was recorded on and off over two years, Bowie bringing songs into the studio as he wrote them.

No, The Next Day is neither looking forward nor back. It is, perhaps, the Bowie album most rooted in the present. The music sounds fresh, not at all dated, but not really innovative either. It would fit comfortably into either classic or modern rock radio; though, sadly, it will probably not get played much on either. Lyrically, it sits right in the present as well. At times Bowie is telling stories or creating characters, but is not longer adopting a persona. The concerns – varying from celebrity to aging to the aforementioned politics and paranoia –  are clearly his own; his reflections on the strange, challenging world we live in.

At this point I hear you saying, "Those actually aren't the questions we're interested in. We want to know, is it any good?" Yes it is. Don't be misled in that endorsement; The Next Day is not even kind of the same sort of great record that Ziggy Stardust or Low or even Scary Monsters were, but it's still very good. If you liked Heathen and Reality, you will like The Next Day. There are a number of very strong songs, like "The Stars," "Where Are We Now?," "Dancing Out in Space," and "How Does the Grass Grow?" which will all certainly thrill older fans as well as having the potential to make some new ones too. The ability to both make and assuage fans is present here but, because Bowie isn't trying to develop a new story arc or overtly trying to continue an existing one, The Next Day won't have the capacity to create the fascinating fiction that fans have always loved throughout the turns of Bowie's career. This album boldly stands alone; a brave stance certainly, given that it is the record which breaks a decade-long silence.

In conclusion, I should point out that there is a moment, in the final song, "Heat," where Bowie does, at least obliquely, answer the questions of looking forward and looking back, and perhaps all the questions one has about his entire career. Many reviewers are pointing to the line, "I don't know who I am." But I think the real key comes after that line. "I am a seer," he sings, "but I am a liar."

Artist:

www.davidbowie.com/the-next-day
www.myspace.com/davidbowie
www.facebook.com/davidbowie
www.twitter.com/DavidBowieReal

Download:
David Bowie – The Next Day – “Where Are We Now” – [mp3]

Album:

The Next Day
will be released on March 12, 2013 by ISO/Columbia/Sony Music. Pre-order it here on Amazon .

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David Bowie – [Album]

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Thursday, 21 January 2010

In this life, there are dreams come true and there are things one hopes for but does not expect to happen – particularly in the cases of rock n' roll institutions. A lot of that is psychological; for fans, the sound of a familiar and adored but nearly forgotten song can cause memories of events to rush back because the music was there as the soundtrack to them. The same thing happens to those musicians that wrote and recorded the songs – that's one of the reasons why some songs get retired; some things (no matter how good they are) are just better left untouched upon because the memories associated with them are just too painful. Such is the case with the Reality Tour that David Bowie embarked upon in 2003. For the singer, the Reality Tour marked the re-emergence of some songs in the set list for the  first time in years (“Ziggy Stardust” had gone un-played for well over a decade, but it closed the night on every date of the tour), presumably because they're reminders of “the bad old days.” For the audience, those that were in attendance would recall it as being an incredible show they would probably never see again; Bowie hasn't done a tour of comparable size, length or scope (115 shows in 24 countries)since then due to health concerns.

In both cases, the Reality Tour was decidedly bittersweet; sweet because it was an incredible show, bitter because it was an incredible show unlikely to be repeated and was dogged by problems (the famous 'lighting technician' incident where a man fell from the rafters of the James L. Knight Center in Miami, FL and repeated illnesses both of the band and Bowie, culminating in the singer having to come off the road to have an angioplasty).

Happily though, the tour was not lost to the sands of time. Fan knew that the tape was obviously rolling on the stage on the nights of November 22 and 23, 2003 because a DVD commemorating the tour was released the following year but, now, the audio has been released in its entirety for the first time.

Comprised almost entirely of some of the biggest songs of Bowie's three-decade career (alright fine – there are a couple missing, but why drag “Suffragette City” and “Space Oddity” out of mothballs when there's stuff like “Ziggy Stardust,” “Rebel Rebel,” “Ashes To Ashes,” “Changes,” “Heroes” and “I'm Afraid Of Americans” already on the plate?), Bowie only leaves the books closed that should be on A Reality Tour (no Pin Ups, Black Tie, White Noise, Hours… or Never Let Me Down) and obviously revels in connecting the dots between the myriad phases of his career that have taken him from space to Philadelphia to Berlin to the fashion district of London, from the Top Of The Pops to the depths of addiction and back again. There's no doubt that A Reality Tour is a show though; any lingering bad vibes that may have clung to the songs don't show (even that “we know Major Tom's a junkie” line that was originally spat on “Ashes To Ashes” bears no ill will here) and while some of the re-arranged numbers leave a bit to be desired (Earl Slick is a good guitarist for most of Bowie's material, but can't manage to reproduce Reeves Gabrels' technical deconstructions on his best day), they're more than compensated for by inspired takes of “The Man Who Sold The World,” “Heroes,” “Changes” and a take of “Under Pressure” with bassist Gail Ann Dorsey handling Freddie Mercury's vocal parts that is only just surpassed by the original.

At each turn and no matter which incarnation of his career David Bowie delves into here, there is no impression left that the singer is struggling (physically or emotionally) with any of the parts or any of the transitions between thematic periods that he seems to make on a dime here, regularly. The performance of each song is flawlessly solid (while they might not be the most palatable takes of the songs on Earthling, they're still tight) – in fact – and comes off as being as much a joy to the singer to do as it is for the very, very receptive audience to hear. If fans (or bands, for that matter) want to hear just how hearty and versatile David Bowie is, even after the turn of the century, and just how muscular a performer he is with every facet of his career, this Reality Tour release is absolutely essential.

Artist:

www.davidbowie.com/

www.myspace.com/davidbowie
www.youtube.com/davidbowie

Album:

A Reality Tour
comes out on January 26, 2010 through ISO/Columbia. Pre-order it here on Amazon .

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David Bowie – [Album]

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Thursday, 16 October 2008

Fans and critics alike have always wondered: “How much input does any given artist have in the track selection of a greatest hits or best-of compilation?” The question’s both obvious and reasonable, any fan can tell you that usually such sets are characterized by what’s absent in the run-time than what’s actually there and, by and large, outside of the odd outtake, B-side or unreleased track, titles of the “Best Of” variety tend to be comprised of a whole lot of platinum and not much personality; that’s why fans seldom buy them. David Bowie’s iSelect takes a slightly different approach to the notion of a “favorite song” compilation though. An explanation from the artist himself in the liners makes the idea plain: “For this CD compilation I’ve selected twelve of my songs that I don’t seem to tire of. Few of them are well known but many of them still get sung at my concerts. Usually by me.”

With that admission made, listeners know what they’re getting on iSelect is a collection of songs that David Bowie genuinely loves because he’s never let them fall away in spite of his chameleonic need to renovate his image every few years. By the same token, calling it something so trite as a ‘best-of’ or ‘greatest hits’ comp doesn’t really fit because there’s only one requisite hit (“Life On Mars” opens the set) and the rest is a strange brew of smaller songs that, while good, aren’t what anyone (other than maybe Bowie himself) would consider ‘great' or representative of his catalog. Rather, iSelect culls tracks largely from the Thin White Duke era of Bowie’s career and scattered moments thereafter, but doesn’t tread close to his rebirth with Earthling, touches only lightly on classic albums like Diamond Dogs and Aladdin Sane and leaves both the Heroes period and Ziggy Stardust alone completely.

Some readers are wondering, “So what’s the point?” The answer to that is simple: iSelect is an interesting study in character and a fascinating look at what the artist considers valuable in his own body of work. While it’s true that none of the blockbuster hits are here, iSelect does have its’ charms as it assembles an even, consistently toned and dramatic set that, because so many of the songs are forgotten or little-known, is compelling because it makes these songs seem fresh.

The slippery, glossy production of songs like “The Bewlay Brothers,” “Loving The Alien” and “Teenage Wildlife” put into relief the dramatic movements of “Sweet Thing-Candidate-Sweet Thing (reprise)” and “Fantastic Voyage” better than the contrasts made between “Starman,” “Golden Years” and “Scary Monsters” do on other comps and also showcase thhe fact that, while they may not have been super huge, the craft is still there and perhaps they would have been had they’d been given the chance.

Of course, in the tradition of comps like this, some concessions to convention need to be made and iSelect is no different in that regard. There is the obligatory song that didn’t see wide release (“Some Are”) and a live track (“Hang On To Yourself”) to quench those sides of the fan base hungry for ‘not-so-known’ stuff, but the interesting thing here is when Bowie mends fences. Again in the liner notes, the singer illustrates that he’s able to admit some changes that he’d make in his catalog and so, with the benefit of hindsight, a version of “Time Will Crawl” (from Never Let Me Down) appears here with real-time drums, a touch of additional orchestration and refurbished mixing and production. With just that little bit of tweaking, “Time Will Crawl” suddenly becomes far more intimate (as much as a dyed in the wool aesthetically-conscious dramatist like Bowie can manage) and warm (see previous parentheses) as the glossy sheen breaks and listeners can get into the song . The remixing isn’t so dramatic that it warrants an epiphany, but the little differences do renovate the impression that the song leaves and offers a different possible image of the singer.

In the most simplistic terms, iSelect doesn’t qualify as the typical compilation that seeks to deify an established and celebrated act (that usually tends to be the purpose) and it has no contrived ambition that would provide a unifying theme; it’s far simpler than that. From his catalog, David Bowie has pulled together a set of under-appreciated songs that he happens to think are special and, by compiling them all into one place, illustrates that they are just that. A series of perfectly average songs in the contexts of the albums on which they originally appeared, they prove their worth and value together and iSelect ends up being an unexpectedly gratifying listen as a result. While long-time fans seldom (if ever) buy comps of this type, iSelect is worth checking out because, when placed under this microscope, Bowie illustrates that even the songwriting on his sub-B-sides is pretty damned incredible.

Artist:

David Bowie online
David Bowie myspace

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